Q: I’ve read that bits hurt a horse’s mouth, hackamores can injure the delicate nerves and bones in the nose, and a sidepull can be too weak to offer control or severe enough to damage the nose. I know that anything in the wrong hands is bad, but what can a pleasure rider like me feel safe using?
That being said, a combination bit might give you the versatile and humane communication option you’re looking for. With both a mouthpiece and a noseband, it offers control by distributing pressure evenly between the horse’s nose and mouth. There are several options on the market. Some come with the bit and noseband working in unison, and some give you the option of using either the noseband or the bit independently—a good choice for customizing your control options.
No matter the style, make sure it has a smooth mouthpiece made of palatable metals (such as sweet iron with copper inlay) shaped to conform to the contours of your horse’s mouth. This will give him more room for his tongue and increase his comfort. If the noseband is narrow or stiff, cushion it with some self-adhesive bandaging material or foam wrapped in electrical tape to soften it up and spread the pressure over a wider area to reduce the chance of abrasion. With a few lessons, your horse should catch on to this new form of communication and be ready to head out for a ride.
Dale Rudin is a CHA-certified riding instructor and clinician with a mindful and balanced approach to horsemanship and riding. www.un-naturalhorsemanship.com.
This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!